There’s a joke in Helsinki that the residents of Katajanokka are so content with life they never leave the island. Which is particularly funny because this island is connected to the city by a short bridge and is two minutes walk from bustling Market Square.
It’s a great place to walk around because you really do feel as though you are away from the city, despite the proximity. Your tour begins once you find yourself looking up at the Orthodox church of Uspenski Cathedral.
There’s some beautiful housing to see on your walk. Katajanokka is described as one of the ‘most distinguished’ suburbs of Helsinki and used to be home to Finland’s former president.
It’s also home to wonderful examples of Art Noveau architecture, or Jugendstil as it is known here. (Kataja means juniper).
The details on the window frames and arches are incredible. (I had a bizarre experience this day, in that every time I photographed a door to a building, it would open and someone would walk out).
Not being too tall can be an asset on this island. I had to crouch quite low to get into this store, where entry is only available through the window.
Any hobbits visiting from New Zealand would feel quite at home, I’m sure.
As well as being home to a major port for cruise ships, Katajanokka is also home to the huge ice breaker ships that churn up the Baltic Sea during the colder months.
The red-brick style of architecture is more evident on this side of the island too and some official maritime offices are housed here.
Katajanokka is also home to one of Helsinki’s best cafes: Johan & Nyström. It was in their Stockholm branch that current Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese honed his craft, after discovering coffee culture while living in New Zealand. You can read my interview for Creating Helsinki with him here.
Just outside you can often watch hardy Finns walking from the sauna to the frozen water for avanto (ice swimming). From the cafe it’s just a short walk back to the base of Uspenski Cathedral and over the bridge to the city.
Unless of course, like the residents, you also decide that you never want to leave. In that case, the island’s former prison has been converted into a hotel where you can sleep in a renovated cell.
Which brings to mind the Eagles song Hotel California every time I think of it. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”